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  Monday, 12 February, 2001, 11:00 GMT
Why the French embraced Ellen
Ellen MacArthur: Heroine of France
Michel Desjoyeaux would have been excused a feeling of incredulity on Sunday night.

Having won the Vendee Globe 24 hours earlier, the French yachtsman then watched his own nation produce far more extravagent celebrations for the second-placed skipper, Ellen MacArthur of Britain.

Desjoyeaux may have won the race, but it was MacArthur who won over the French people.

This switch of allegiance to the British hopeful was one of many remarkable issues thrown up by MacArthur's story.

But why did she prove so popular with the French public?

Francophile

James Boyd, of Yachting World magazine, believes MacArthur's success is not just down to the novelty factor of her youth and gender - her Francophile outlook is equally important.


She's an ordinary girl from Derbyshire, she isn't part of the gin-and-tonic, blue-blazared brigade
James Boyd on the secret of MacArthur's success
"She's an infinitely charming person and she's young and English," he told BBC Radio Five Live.

"But she's been well known in France for the last four years - she came over here to do a race in 1997.

"She made the effort to learn French and she's got a huge number of French friends both within sailing and the media.

"I think she's won the hearts and minds of the French public."

Sponsorship quest

MacArthur turned to the French when she was starting out in the sport and found it tough to get back financial backing in Britain.

French supporters cheer Ellen into port
Franglais fans: French supporters cheer Ellen into port
"At first she found it easier to get sponsors in France than her own country," Boyd added, "but her main sponsors now are Kingfisher, so ultimately it's been a British company who have helped her out.

"I wouldn't say yachting is taken more seriously in France than in Britain, but the sponsor side of it has developed much more.

"They have much more of a culture of stars than we do. They originally had Eric Tabli, who is basically the reason yachting is so big in France.

"He spawned a whole generation of off-shore yachtsmen, of which Ellen is the latest example on the international scene."

"He was very big in the press in France and it enabled yahctsmen to get sponsorship, to build amazing new boats and to go off on their incredible journeys."

Blue blazar brigade

MacArthur's endeavours in the past three months mean she is now destined to become as big in Britain as she is in France.

Michel Desjoyeaux
Michel Desjoyeaux: Won the race, but not the fans
And Boyd believes her success is likely to have a major impact on a sport that has previously been branded elitist.

"She's seen a little bit of fame before," he said, "but nothing like the degree we saw last night.

"It's going to be interesting to see what happens when she comes back to Britain.

"She's been front page news for more than a week now and I think it's going to be quite hard for her, and also her family, to adjust to that.

"Her life will possibly never be the same again. She's a well-known person now and it's going to be interesting to see how that affects yachting in Britain.

"She's an ordinary girl from Derbyshire, she isn't part of the gin-and-tonic, blue-blazared brigade.

"The message she's been trying to put across is if you want to do something, you can as long as you make your mind up and go and do it."

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James Boyd of Yachting World
"I think she has won the hearts and minds of the French public"
Ellen MacArthur in the Vendee Globe race

Home-coming heroine

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